The Road to Nowhere…

My legs were beginning to tire and my throat was dry. It had been a long day and there was a long night to come. The rhythm of my over-worked legs had slowed to but a fraction of their peak, but surprisingly, my mind was still sharp, targeted and focused.

This journey had begun uncountable moons ago, but I felt now that its end was close. I had set out that fateful day in search of answers, answers to those questions that seemed to cause me such pain.

As the sun began to set on another day, a gentle breeze began to sweep across the cooling sands. It seemed to split the dunes, forming a hazy but visible path to nowhere.

As my journey appeared to be nearing its close, I fought the will to sleep, a certain desperation forcing me to keep my eyes open and my legs pumping, a certain excitement at what may lay ahead.

Day turned into night, and night into day, before I arrived at the outskirts of what appeared to be a busy crossroads for the traders of the desert. I took some time to freshen myself, before sampling the traditional hospitality of the local Bedouin traders. Once invigorated by their freshly brewed coffee, I asked one of my hosts for confirmation of my direction of travel. Although confirmation came, it did not come without a barrage of unprepared for questions.

I was told that there had been no mention of the village of Kharbouse in these parts for well over a century, and also that many believed its existence to be only a myth. It was only the Bedouin tribes of old who still held that the valley of Kharbouse and the city contained within had existed, before being swallowed by the sands of this hostile desert.

I was invited to stay with the caravan and join them for their evening meal. At first, it seemed odd that these strangers were so welcoming, but after an evening of good humor and even better food, it dawned on me that they knew no other way and the limits of their hospitality were unbound.

The evening drew on and I found that the later it got, the more comfortable I began to feel in the company of my newly found friends. Abdul-Hadi, who appeared to hold some influence over the others, was keen to learn more about my proposed visit to the city of Kharbouse. As one by one the others dropped to sleep, Abdul-Hadi and I continued to talk through till the early hours of the morning.

I was asked the nature of my journey, and I then explained my questions, my fears, my sleepless nights, and my journey so far. I told of the old man who had stopped me unexpectedly on a street adjacent to the Prophets mosque in Medina, how he had with no prior consultation or discussion approached me and clearly stated that “The answer to your questions lie in Kharbouse, he who holds the keys to the Mosque of Kharbouse, also holds the key to unlock the cycle of your dreams.”

Abdul-Hadi had remained silent while I had narrated this whole period of my life to him, not once did it appear that his attention had drifted or that he was not listening intently to my every word. It was only when I had finished that he spoke and his first words to me were a question, he asked of me “What if you do not find what you seek, in Kharbouse?”

The question was one that I had not considered, but before my mind could go into overdrive, he paused me and said “failure is something most of us forget to consider. Let me put your mind at rest, I know of one who claims to have visited the lost city, he will be your guide if you accept him.”

Once again I felt overwhelmed by the levels of hospitality offered by my hosts. I could not decline, so we arranged to set of that very night. The zeal was back, my eyes seemed to burn through the night and they alone seemed to guide me through the desert shadows. We walked through the night till the rise of the sun, not a word was exchanged between my guide and I. We traveled in silence, seamlessly slipping through the waves of the desert.

As the sun rose higher and higher into the early hours, a silhouette began to take shape on the horizon; at first glance one would have mistaken it for just another ripple on the skin of the desert. But as we drew closer it became more and more apparent that there were buildings ahead. Our pace automatically quickened, although still not a word was muttered, there seemed to be some mutual understanding of the importance of this journey and its end.

We walked a little longer, and the shadows and silhouettes began to take real form, we had arrived at Kharbouse, the city which it was claimed, had never existed, stood in front of me.

There was not much to see, Kharbouse was a dead city, not a sound except the echoes of even our faintest footsteps, the central buildings of administration and rule lay in ruins, was this what I had traveled so far for. Surely there was no one here who could hold the answers to my questions.

As we walked further through the main square, my heart seemed to stop as I saw the minaret of the towns’ mosque. How was it possible that the city was in ruins, yet the mosque stood proud as though it had been built only the previous fall. The coloured tiles vivid, the marble polished. I ran up the steps of this magnificent building, something seemed to pull me towards this house of Allah, this house of worship.

I pulled gently on the door, and then a little harder, it seemed to shrug my meager efforts of in disgust. My heart seemed to sink, it seemed as though all the tables were turned against me, would this nightmare ever end? Would I ever find the truth?

The old man in medina said that the man with the keys to the mosque would hold the answers to my questions, but this town was deserted, not a soul in site, I pulled the handle on the door once again, in some sort of vain hope that maybe by some miracle it would open…it didn’t.

My guide and friend, looking into my eyes realized that this journey was not over for me, but that instead it may only have been beginning. I though it only polite to thank him for bringing me this far, and to ask him if he wished to be excused. His face lit up in pleasant surprise, and he explained that he would be most grateful if he could be given leave to return to his family. Before leaving he stood up and hugged me as though he was leaving a close family member.

As I watched him walk away, I felt a strange sense of relief, for although I was grateful for his skills of navigation, and I doubt I would have found Kharbouse without him, I am a lone traveller searching for my truth, searching for the answers to my questions.

He has gone, the midday sun is overhead, scorching all that falls prey to its lethal rays. I seek shade under the old date palm opposite the mosque, and I wait. I don’t know exactly what I am waiting for, but I wait anyway. As the hours pass, not a single sign of life is to be seen. Nothing moves, even the slight desert breeze that was cooling me earlier has gone.

So what am I to do? Where do I go from here? I remember now the words of Abdul-Hadi, as he questioned me earlier “What if you do not find what you seek, in Kharbouse?” And now, as then, there is no answer. It was a question that had been playing on my mind since that day. What if the answers I was so sure I would find did not exist.

My eyes opened with the world a blur; I guess I must have slipped of to sleep. It is still night, but the sun is beginning to rise. There is a sound ahead of me near to the mosque. Someone or something is moving, I get up as quickly as my tired legs will carry me, and I shout out hoping for a response. I hear nothing, but I see a figure silently slip through the front door of the mosque. I run up the stairs behind him, and pull…but the door is locked. I bang as hard as I can, but the solid wood door does not resonate in response.

I decide to wait; surely whoever entered must soon leave after the Morning Prayer. My wait is not futile, within 10 minutes the door creaks open, and the same shadowy figure emerges. This time I manage to stop him before he slips into the shadows. My heart is pounding, he is stood in front of me, but no words come from my mouth, my heart is beating so hard it seems to be pound in my ears. He speaks before I can “so you have come looking for he, who holds the keys to the Mosque of Kharbouse”, my jaw dropped, how had he known, still not a word could I speak. “Do not worry, I have been expecting you, you are long overdue” Then, it came out…. “Can you answer my question?” I finally got a word out, although I am sure it sounded like a ten-year-old child being scolded.

“Yes,” He answered “Yes I can answer your question?”

He began to walk away, his shadow seeming to cut through the dunes and mounds, he moved swiftly, like a man half his age. I had great difficulty following him, I didn’t even know if I was meant to be following, but I did.

He led me through the desert night, like a time-hardened Bedouin. It was apparent that he was a master of this desert, at one with its shape and form; he seemed to flow with the shifting sands.

The journey was not long, within half and hour it became apparent that we were heading towards a now visible light on the horizon, as we drew closer the light began to illuminate the structure of another city. The city was without doubt more recently constructed than that of kharbouse, and all together seemed to be more inhabited.

Then, all of a sudden he stopped and turned his face to me “My friend, welcome to the new city of Kharbouse” he gestured to me to follow him into an old building just off the main square, as we entered there was a strong smell of musk, almost overpowering. The decor was bland at best, but still held a distinctive feel, wafting back memories of my travels in Jordan. We sat down on the rough Hessian carpet, and within minutes an old woman as though sensing my thoughts, entered with a tray of fruit and freshly brewed tea.

As we relaxed, we talked, I asked of him the mystery behind Kharbouse. How and why the new city came into being? He explained that the people old kharbouse had been transgressors, and held no respect frothier Lord, or for their fellow people. He said that he believed Allah had destroyed their city because of this. A few of the people of old had survived the sandstorm, which had buried the city alive.

The few who had survived where those true believers who were in the Mosque of Kharbouse when the storm struck. His father had been one of those who had lived through this experience. After the destruction of kharbouse, the few who remained had moved to the plains further along the valley and re-established their homes and society.

When I asked him how he knew of my coming, he responded with a rare smile “The believers of Old Kharbouse have written that the first outsider to visit the new city, would be a man seeking the truth and he would come looking for he who holds the keys to the old mosque. And you my friend, since the destruction of the Old Kharbouse, 3 years ago are the first outsider to have come this way.”

I pondered, in amazement at the story, which had just been told to myself. Of how my coming had been recorded many years ago, I did not know how to react, but in my heart there was a certain excitement, maybe this really was the end to what had been a never-ending journey.

As the night drew close, he smiled a funny kind of smile, seeming to say, when will you ask the question you came this far to ask? I sensed this, not really agitation but more so he seemed anxious for me. So… I asked, “Who is this figure who haunts my every dream, his smile so evil, his words so harsh, his mannerisms so familiar.”

The smile disappeared from his face, and a serious look came over him, I could tell that the answer to my question would have serious implications, but it didn’t dawn on me that it would change my life totally. He paused, not quite sure how to break the answer to me, then all of a sudden he blurted, “It’s you, you are the one you see, you have pleased all around you and been the father, the brother, the friend, to every man, woman and child, but you have been cruel, and harsh to yourself, you have neglected and abused your soul”

The next five minutes seemed to be a blur, I am not sure if I responded or not, but I do remember feeling sick, how could this be, the man i saw in my dreams was not me, he didn’t look me, and certainly didn’t act like the person I though of myself as. Was there a mistake, was it a joke.

He then got up and left me, I think he sensed that some time alone would be helpful. I sat there alone, thinking, mulling over my life, my past, my friends, my family, my thoughts and my actions. It slowly began to filter through that he was right, it was me. I did not recognize myself, because over the years I had lost any idea of who I was, I had spent my life molding myself for the benefit of those around me, who was I? Who was the real me? What were my likes and dislikes, what things did I enjoy, what were my thoughts? I didn’t know the answers to any of these simple questions, how was it possible that under all these false layers, I had forgotten the real me.

I cried and I cried, I wanted my identity back. I wanted to be me. I wanted to know who I was. What scared me most was that I knew it would be a long journey, even longer then the one I had just finished. I spent time thinking about how cruel I had been to myself, how I had suppressed and oppressed my soul, taken away its liberty. I had destroyed myself, I stood up, and without even offering my regards I walked out of the house and back out into the now cooling breeze, the sands ahead seemed endless they would be my abode while I searched for myself. I started to walk in no particular direction and towards nothing except freedom…..

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